After being sentenced to federal prison in 2001 for racketeering, Louisiana’s former governor Edwin Edwards, long famous for his corruption and political antics, humorously quipped, “I will be a model prisoner as I have been a model citizen.” In his 1983 campaign for governor against incumbent David Treen, Edwards bellowed, “If we don’t get Dave Treen out of office, there won’t be anything left to steal.” The kind of illegal corruption once flaunted by Edwards is on the decline. There is less of a need. Legal corruption in government is more prevalent and easy enough to secure. (more…)
Over at the IFWE blog, Elise Amyx takes a look at Brian Fikkert’s argument about the origins of the modern American welfare state:
According to Fikkert, the evangelical church’s retreat from poverty alleviation between 1900 and 1930 encouraged the welfare state to grow to its size today. Church historians refer to this era as the “Great Reversal” because the evangelical church’s shift away from the poor was so dramatic.
In Faithful in All God’s House: Stewardship and the Christian Life, Gerard Berghoef and Lester DeKoster make a similar case. They argue that “the church is largely responsible for the coming of the modern welfare community.” They also cast the hopeful vision that another reversal might occur: “The church could be largely responsible for purging welfare of its faults and problems if enough believers caught the vision.”
While Fikkert is largely drawing on the early twentieth century in America for his argument, Berghoef and DeKoster examine more broadly the Christian perspective on the relationship between faith and works of charity. This dynamic is, after all, is a perennial challenge for Christian social engagement, and the interaction between the Social Gospel and evangelicalism in America is just one example. Another is the reversal over the last century or so in the Netherlands, where there has been a move from Abraham Kuyper’s claim that “all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your Savior” to the church’s plea “for social security that is not charity but a right that is fully guaranteed by government.”
We are now witnessing how some make the tie between human tragedy and federal spending. Just yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shamelessly implied that the accident that killed seven Marines in Nevada is tied to spending cuts from sequester. Hollywood actor Harrison Ford lamented that “accidents are going to happen” in aviation because of sequester. It’s almost if more government spending is needed to appease the wrath of the Divine State. If not appeased, wrath will reign down on humanity and nature if not given due alms. We know from Exodus that the Lord our God is a jealous God, but is the federal government a jealous god too? Slowing the rate of growth of this god stirs up anger.
We are being told by lawmakers and citizens that we can’t afford to cut federal spending. Never mind that almost every single American has noticed no change from a paltry and temporary slowing growth rate from sequester. But we are told it’s far too dangerous for our safety and humanity’s future. Never mind that we read absurd stories daily about federal spending initiatives that study why lesbians are fat or why they drink more than the general population.
Washington now has the inability to come together to at least make any responsible strides to curtail our spending crisis. Even throughout American history it has generally been understood by both parties that the federal government can’t or shouldn’t solve all of our problems. Instead, we see lawmakers almost ritualistically dancing on the dead bodies of innocent victims in their call for more spending and government involvement in our lives. It’s becoming a gruesome cult like practice.
In Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver declares, “It is likely that human society cannot exist without some source of sacredness. Those states which have sought openly to remove it have tended in the end to assume divinity themselves.”
This summer I am teaching a class at Acton University titled “Religion and Presidential Politics in the Modern Era.” I’ll touch more upon the the topic of divinization of government in that lecture.
We’re witnessing increases in attacks on religious liberty, sin taxes, and massive centralization and debt. We need to ask ourselves going forward if a jealous government god is going to want to continue to compete with the Church?
photo courtesy of Foreign Policy
“We don’t just want the money to come to Haiti. Stop sending money. Let’s fix it. Let’s fix it,” declared Republic of Haiti President Michel Martelly three years after the 2010 earthquake. Martelly was referring to foreign aid, $9 billion of which has been pledged to the country since the disaster. But financial aid has of course not been the only item sent to Haiti; the country has experienced a vast influx of goods, including clothing, shoes, food, and in particular, rice. Haiti imports approximately 80% of its rice, making it the country’s most significant food import.
Considering Haiti was self-sufficient in rice production in the 1970s, this should come as an alarming statistic. Along with rice, production of goods in around 200 companies enabled Haiti, at one time, to be a recognized exporter and experience moderate levels of prosperity. In her Foreign Policy article, “Subsidizing Starvation,” Maura R. O’Connor cites U.S. Ambassador to Haiti from 1981 to 1983, Ernest Preeg:
“Haiti was just as far along as anyone else,” said Preeg. “People came to Port-au-Prince to get jobs because it was a burgeoning export economy.” Preeg wrote an article in 1984 in which he echoed the view of many others that Haiti could be the “Taiwan of the Caribbean.”
But starting in the early 90s, these industries crumbled, as international trade embargos — prompted by a military coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide — were implemented and foreign imports began to flood the Haitian market. (more…)
There is always much to discuss after a State of the Union address, and Tuesday’s speech is no different. Sam Gregg, Director of Research at the Acton Institute, shared his thoughts:
“The overall theme of the address is that government is there to do stuff for you,” he said. “He starts out making remarks about America being a country that values free enterprise and rewards individual initiative…and yet he offers proposals for government intervention after intervention after intervention,… and there’s not much there at all about freeing up the labor market or trying to do things like reducing America’s absurdly high level of corporate tax.”
Specifically, Gregg wanted to view the speech through a Catholic lens, using the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity:
Obama, he said, “basically seems to think the government, and specifically the federal government, should be intervening all over the place in the economy. He talks about the administration partnering with a certain number of communities throughout the U.S. You have to say, ‘Well, why does he think the federal government needs to be involved in these situations?’”
Obama said, for example, that his administration will “begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit [economically] towns in America to get these communities back on their feet.”
“Subsidiarity would suggest that surely one should be looking at other communities both in terms of local and state government,” said Gregg, “but also the actual communities themselves, if we’re serious about dealing with some of these problems.”
Sam Gregg is author of “Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture and How American Can Avoid a European Future”.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that a majority of Americans now believe the federal government threatens their own personal rights and freedoms:
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Jan. 9-13 among 1,502 adults, finds that 53% think that the federal government threatens their own personal rights and freedoms while 43% disagree.
In March 2010, opinions were divided over whether the government represented a threat to personal freedom; 47% said it did while 50% disagreed. In surveys between 1995 and 2003, majorities rejected the idea that the government threatened people’s rights and freedoms.
The growing view that the federal government threatens personal rights and freedoms has been led by conservative Republicans. Currently 76% of conservative Republicans say that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms and 54% describe the government as a “major” threat. Three years ago, 62% of conservative Republicans said the government was a threat to their freedom; 47% said it was a major threat.
The fact that 38% of Democrats say the government poses a threat to personal rights and freedoms and 16% view it as a major threat, shows that it’s not just a partisan issue. But while there may be agreement that the federal government threatens our rights and freedoms, there is likely to be divergence of opinion on which rights and freedoms are being threatened. Rather than just having people respond with yes or no to the question, “Federal government threatens your personal freedom?”, it would be helpful for respondents to explain what they mean.
We could, for instance, have them go down the list of rights in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights and point out which they feel are threatened. Like most Americans, I’m no legal scholar. But here is how I would respond:
I have wrapped up a brief series on the principle of subsidiarity over at the blog of the journal Political Theology with a post today, “Subsidiarity ‘From Below.’” You can check out the previous post, “Subsidiarity ‘From Above,’” as well as my introductory primer on the topic as well.
For those who might be interested in reading some more, you can also download some related papers: “State, Church, and the Reformational Roots of Subsidiarity” and “A Society of Mutual Aid: Natural Law and Subsidiarity in Early Modern Reformed Perspective.”
Ken Endo, who has done a great deal of work on the historical and legal background to the idea of subsidiarity, has a helpful summary of the two basic constructions as differing emphases of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism:
Founded on a strong sense of autonomy and self-determination that could be influenced by the Protestant tradition, the local municipalities and regions in Sweden and Finland considered subsidiarity indispensable if they are to join the European Community….
Their approach towards subsidiarity as well as that of Denmark and perhaps the Netherlands takes on a bottom-up character, and does not necessarily coincide with the conception of southern European countries, which are in general coloured by Catholicism.
Of this latter view, Endo is referring to the idea that “the Catholic Church presupposes the hierarchical view of Society in which all its components should be located in the ‘proper’ places. Moreover, the Church considers that other components of Society than the State are subordinated to the State in a harmonious way as if they were part of its body (to put it in a different way, in accordance with the common good.”
You can download the text of Endo’s lengthy essay, “The Principle of Subsidiarity: From Johannes Althusius to Jacques Delors,” in PDF form.
In a new book, The Good Rich and What They Cost Us, Robert Dalzell Jr. aims to address “a great paradox at the core of the American Dream: a passionate belief in the principles of democracy combined with an equally passionate celebration of wealth.”
In a review for the Wall Street Journal, Amity Shlaes notes that although the book provides an in-depth look at the history of American philanthropy, the author’s own personal prescriptions lend too high a trust to government redistribution:
“The Good Rich” starts out like a tour through a portrait gallery, describing rather than judging. For much of his narrative, Mr. Dalzell refrains from giving his own opinion explicitly and reports merely that the rich have often blamed themselves for their lapses or oversize good fortune, or that their peers did.
Toward the book’s end, though, Mr. Dalzell drops his own screen, putting forward a familiar argument: that democracy suffers unless wealth and philanthropy are redistributed to reduce economic inequality. Even the “good rich” cost us: They don’t give wisely, Mr. Dalzell contends, spending too much on “elite institutions like Harvard, Yale, MIT and Princeton, which seems unlikely to reduce the income gap by much.” …For the sake of the public good, then, the rich must fashion better charity projects while handing over more of their money to the government.
Such philanthropic efforts deserve to be thoroughly examined. Likewise, from the poorest of us to the wealthiest, we should be energetic in examining our own activities, using discernment and wisdom in how we use our resources. But as Shlaes indicates, if it’s difficult for we individuals to wrestle with these deep questions about stewardship — particularly when we’re calling on the Divine for wisdom, as many philanthropists under Dalzell’s microscope claim to have done — how much more difficult will it be for a bloated government machine to utilize proper discernment? (more…)
If we asked many of our fellow Americans today “What is the purpose of government?,” undoubtedly, we might be barraged with some vexing or comical answers. But I’m not one to believe that a good deal of our citizens can’t answer this question quite intelligibly. Still, I don’t think it would be enough to embody a healthy republic. It is time for our country to ask these basic questions again. It seems as if the looming chaos of our current national mismanagement demands it.
It was a common belief among the American framers that the purpose of government is simply to secure our rights from God. Unfortunately, I think this is largely forgotten now. That much is evident, given the legislative demands we see today, especially in our nation’s capital. Government overreach is the rule, not the exception. Today we see action taken by the government more oriented toward curtailing our liberties. Instead of natural law, we are inundated with legal positivism, especially when characterized by executive orders contrary to our Constitution. Attacks on the Bill of Rights and the current attacks we are seeing on the 2nd Amendment, is really a fundamental argument against the idea of self-government. In his first Presidential Inaugural Address in 1801, Thomas Jefferson declared,
Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.
The idea that humans can govern themselves was a radical notion in 1776. Jefferson eloquently stated,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .
President Ronald Reagan in 1981, would echo Jefferson’s articulation of self government in his Inaugural Address, while facing the monuments to America’s Founders:
From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?
We as a people need to again ask those fundamental questions about our capability for self government. When it comes to the 2nd Amendment or the entirety of our Bill of Rights, should we trust a government that is already hedging and placing limits on trusting us, when in fact, it was entirely meant to be the other way around?
Patrick Brennan graciously noted my engagement with his piece on subsidiarity, charitably calling it “substantive.” He takes issue, however, with my “pace Brennan.” He rightly responds that “the very point of the book to which my chapter is a contribution is a ‘comparative’ perspective on subsidiarity.” He continues, “My assigned task in writing the chapter was to tell the what subsidiarity means in Catholic social doctrine, period.”
To clarify, it seems to me that Brennan is quite ably articulating and explicating a particularly vigorous and metaphysically robust version of subsidiarity often associated with Catholic social teaching, and particularly the neo-Thomist revival of the previous two centuries. My quibble, and I’m not sure if it amounts to much more than that, is with the idea that this is identical to “what subsidiarity means in Catholic social doctrine, period.”
In the papers linked in the previous post I do make more specific claims with respect to subsidiarity in “other” traditions, particularly the Reformed. But given the shared medieval (and even to a great extent the early modern) background and the diversity there, I do wonder whether that more robust, ontologically-freighted version of subsidiarity is the only version at play in the specifically Roman Catholic tradition, either before or after 1891.